Part Three of Our Interview with Jeff Merrick
Jeff Merrick and I have been talking for a couple of hours now. Besides some good coffee, what’s really fueling our conversation at this point is the chance to compare notes on what we are observing on the front lines of addiction – myself working in treatment and what Jeff is seeing out there in the intervention homes he goes into and in the lives of clients facing criminal charges.
Here in Los Angeles, where medical marijuana is sold in dispensaries on every corner, and with the debate over the legalization of recreational pot use raging throughout the country, I was curious to know what he is seeing in the courts and in the field. It turns out we are both concerned because we are seeing much of the same things.
“I used to be surprised a few years ago when a new client had a marijuana card,” Jeff says. “Now I’m more surprised when they don’t have one. And clients today are often surprised to learn that what they thought was legal pot still translates into a DUI or possession case when they have it. Sometimes it’s a distribution case when you share it. Or worse I have had clients charged with drug trafficking when they traveled with it.”
“So it is a really dangerous misconception that anything is really all that legal when it comes to pot or for that matter that it is just a habit rather than a narcotics addiction.“ He explains that a person, who is prone to substance abuse disorder, and that is everyone entering treatment, is just as likely to spiral into unmanageable addiction through marijuana as another drug. Where it is a “holdout” for what his clients and even some of their parents and spouses like to refer to as “weed maintenance” or “harm reduction,” Jeff says there are going to be problems.
“The other concern of course is that the strength of the strains of marijuana being sold today is significantly stronger and even re-engineered.” Jeff is talking about hybrids, which are blended strains of plants, and explains that the competition to keep up with a discerning and demanding pot consumer is leading to more serious dependency. The names of these strains pretty much say it all, he says – names with the word Hydro, Killer, or Max added tothem. “And others that sound more like a Jimi Hendrix song and promise you the time of your life. Names like Purple Diesel or Afghan Skunk Haze. They basically tell the user all he needs to know, Jeff says. “And for an addict it is all he is looking for. He won’t just get a little high. He will get completely loaded.”
Jeff says that there should be a place for medical use, and he doesn’t consider responsible use, even recreationally, as a real problem. “But with the families and clients I deal with, there isn’t just a little pot use. There is a lot of it. Enough that life is no longer in session, and there is a real darkness and failure to launch quality to it.”
I wanted to know whether there are a lot of intervention or legal cases Jeff handles where the problem is only marijuana. “I can tell you that my colleagues and I are seeing a rise in the number of pot cases in the courts and more interventions where it is a serious identified problem. There doesn’t have to be other substances involved. But for most of the clients I deal with there is almost always drinking and harder drugs in the equation. And I rarely have clients with a legitimate medical basis for it.”
What he usually hears from clients, as the “medical” reason reported for heavy marijuana use is depression and anxiety. When he worked in treatment Jeff remembers hearing from a lot of clients that they needed pot and other drugs to avoid panic attacks. But for an addicted person, he explains, life is usually what is causing depression and anxiety and should not be medicated away.
“You have to remember that narcotics addicts have narcotic solutions. The addictive cycle is about replacing life with drugs and using over and around feelings. By the time there is intervention the goal for the addicted loved one has become feeling nothing at all. It is about escape, avoiding life.”
That’s why families fear they are losing them, Jeff says. They are. But staying frozen in fear is not the option. Everyone stays stuck.
“So you have a narcotic addict who is devoting all of his energy to not feeling anything. Add to this a weed dispensary on every corner and a perceived need for higher-octane drugs to escape from life and this means that the drug problem has become the only solution. You miss every opportunity for growth and change. Pretty soon, you don’t feel anything at all. And that’s pretty close to not living.”
Jeff keeps bringing our conversation back to what the solution is: where we say we can always find the opportunities for growth. “Recovery is about learning how to meet life’s challenges,” he says. “It’s about engaging with your true self and getting your life back. It’s about getting your family back and the things that matter. We learn how to stop hurting ourselves. We stop running and become the people our families always knew we can be.”
He spoke a lot during our afternoon together about the importance of family, teamwork, preparation, timing and strategy; a lot of moving parts here and a great deal of enthusiasm. He says in recovery he has learned he is often a more powerful interventionist when he teams with other professionals. He works with some of the best in the field. Unlike many interventionists, Jeff doesn’t go solo on every intervention and often partners with a teammate. He often partners with a well-known clinician and interventionist, Dr. Louise Stanger, of All About Interventions. Jeff lights up when he talks about Dr. Stanger. He refers to her as a mentor and a tremendously talented partner in moving families and clients toward change. They have a reputation for taking on complex cases and are a unique team — the only attorney-clinician team Jeff knows of doing interventions.
I like how the lawyer and recovering side of Jeff have come together. I can see how he would be really effective in showing clients and families a better way. And I can see how it would be effective as well in the courtroom where he tells me prosecutors and judges are often more geared toward jail or prison for some of his clients. He says he used to look at the district attorney and the judge as his adversaries. “What I’ve come to realize is that for some clients they are our potential partners in recovery. External motivation may never be as high as during a legal crisis. Where there is a need for treatment my job is to motivate everyone into the solution. Like my intervention clients, the prosecution and the court can take a lot of convincing.”
For more information on Jeff Merrick and his services, please visit his website www.attorneymerrick.com.